If you watched one of Gerrit Cole’s 33 starts this year for the Pirates, you probably saw him give up a home run. When you give up 31 of them, the math is pretty strong in your favor. In fact, Cole gave up ding dongs in 21 of his 33 starts. This led to a very bloated 1.37 HR/9 innings this year, just under 2-1/2 times greater than his career rate of 0.56 HR/9 IP prior to this year.
The most homers that Cole had given up in a season, prior to 2017, was 11. He did that twice, both in his exemplary 2015 campaign and his injury-shortened 2014 one. Gerrit Cole had never given up 3 home runs in a game prior to this year; in 2017 he did it three times. Before 2017, Gerrit Cole had given up 2 homers in a game four times in his whole career; in 2017 he matched that total with four occasions.
Not only did Cole surrender a lot of jacks, but there were a lot of runs attached to those homers, too. Whether it’s just luck or amazing pitch sequencing, Gerrit Cole has been very fortuitous in his career that the vast majority of his homers have been of the solo variety. Here’s a year-by-year breakdown of his homers allowed and runs allowed due to homers:
- 2013 — 7 homers, 9 runs due to homers (1.29 runs per HR)
- 2014 — 11 homers, 16 runs due to homers (1.45 runs per HR)
- 2015 — 11 homers, 13 runs due to homers (1.18 runs per HR)
- 2016 — 7 homers, 8 runs due to homers (1.14 runs per HR)
If you average that all out, Cole has allowed 1.28 runs per HR in his career before 2017. In 2017, he allowed 48 runs on his 31 homers, for a career-worst 1.55 runs/HR. If you were to give him his standard of 1.28 runs/HR, that would have shaved 8 earned runs off his ledger this year. Cole’s ERA would have been 3.90 instead of 4.26. That’s not enough of an improvement to alert the Cy Young voters, but the optics of having an ERA start with a ‘3’ in lieu of a ‘4’ means something to people.
So what caused Gerrit Cole to be prone to homeritis? It has been quietly reported that MLB’s baseball suppliers altered the seams on the baseballs this year in an attempt to generate offense and boost interest. The results certainly bear that out. This season shattered the record for most home runs in a season across baseball. There have been plenty of pitchers besides Gerrit Cole that have watched their home run total spike up this year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see MLB scale back the lowering of the baseball seams for next season in an attempt to rectify the sharp uptick this year.
Gerrit Cole’s 2017 season was not successful on the surface in regards to his baseball card stats, but it was successful in the fact that he crested 200 innings for the second time in his four full seasons. Is Gerrit Cole An Ace is such a hotly debated topic in this town and, frankly, it has been ground into dust by this point. Although his 2015 season is the outlier of his career to-date, Cole has had plenty of games and stretches where he’s pitched like an ace. (I still believe he is one.) There were many great starts this year mixed in with a few stinkbombs that clouded his overall stats, especially a particularly horrid stretch of four starts from May 22 to June 8, where he gave up 24 ER in 19-1/3 innings and allowed 8 home runs while doing so.
For the Pirates to be good, they need their stars to perform at star level while they have them. If the Pirates have designs on winning in 2018, Cole and McCutchen need to both be on the roster and performing at levels higher than what they did this year. McCutchen was a superstar for two months, then average or below-average the other four. Cole was great for two months, average for two more and down right awful for the other two. He needs to have, at least, four good-to-great months and two average months in 2018.
Even though the Pirates have more pitching depth than anticipated at the start of the season, you win with stars. I’d hold on to Gerrit Cole this offseason and then re-evaluate keeping him (and most other players) at the July 2018 deadline, based on how the Pirates are doing.
And don’t be surprised to see Gerrit Cole’s homers allowed total to mysteriously return to their pre-2017 levels, either.